Until 19th August
Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical has recently opened at the Fortune Theatre, following five sold-out development runs at the New Diorama Theatre in 2019 and Southwark Playhouse in 2020, 2021 & 2022, plus an extended Riverside Studios run last summer.
The year is 1943 and we’re losing the war. Luckily, we’re about to gamble all our futures on a stolen corpse.
Previously described as Singin’ in the Rain meets Strangers on a Train, I would argue that Operation Mincemeat additionally had the lyrical delightfulness of Shrek, the masterful choreography of Cursed Child, the comedic perfection of The Play That Goes Wrong and the bittersweet storytelling of Come From Away.
With no prior knowledge of the real-life operation in 1943, nor of the draft script or songs in the development-runs – I went into Operation Mincemeat blind, and found myself a new favourite musical!
I personally believe the opening number ‘Born To Lead’ does not introduce the show as well as it could. Setting the scene with fast lyrics in a Hamilton-esque style had me worried I would miss the finer details of the context. Additionally, the characters (who we all certainly came to love and adore) were initially introduced in an exaggerated cheesy manner which did make me worry Mincemeat would have a ‘panto’ vibe.
However, even by the middle of Act One, all early concerns were vanquished and I was entirely enthralled. The storytelling was immersive and highly captivating. Each song bettered the last. And the love poured into the production was apparent.
The cast of 5 were beyond incredible. The volume of roles they covered between themselves could’ve easily been played by a cast of 20, and it was seamless they way they adeptly morphed between each one. You found yourself caring for each character so deeply, and by the curtain call I felt such a strong feeling of admiration for each of the actors.
Natasha Hodgson as Ewen Montagu (& Others) is a comedic star – her tonality and timing was bang on, and had the audience wheezing at the smallest inflection. David Cumming as Charles Cholmondeley (& Others) was wonderfully endearing – masterfully using body language and quirkiness to connect with the audience. Zoë Roberts as Johnny Bevan (& Others) was excellent at balancing her highly contrasting roles, especially the lightning fast costume changes. Claire Marie-Hall as Jean Leslie (& Others) did a superb job of guiding the audience through the narrative with her strong female character. Christian Andrews as Hester Leggett (& Others) in particular blew me away as a performer. As a company their versatility and vocal range was a marvel to witness.
My favourite number, sung by Hester Leggett (Christian Andrews) was without doubt ‘Dear Bill’ – the tearjerker song of the show. And I was balling! A song of wistful wishful thinking, Dear Bill is Hester Leggett’s lyrical love letter to a lost one written with such genuine heart, and sung so beautifully by Christian Andrews – it certainly received the loudest applause of the night.
A close second favourite number was ‘Useful’, sung by Jean Leslie (Claire Marie-Hall) and Hester Leggett (Christian Andrews). Whilst the topic of the forgotten heroes of war could’ve easily called for a sad ballad, I was glad that ‘Useful’ was instead an optimistic and uplifting number, with a female empowerment and comedic tone, as well as soft references to the prior ‘Dear Bill’ number.
[Spoiler ahead] I want to specifically acknowledge three moments that stood out to me during the show. Firstly, the number ‘Just For Tonight’ was a wonderful example of excellent lighting work and role / costume transitions; the cutting between two simultaneous scenes with the use of handheld torches and quick prop changes was visually delicious, and I wanted to watch it again immediately. Secondly, the comedic spoken scenes which involved all five of the cast (queue scene in Act 1 & phone scene in Act 2) were fantastically executed, and I found highly entertaining. It’s clear to see that the cast has chemistry with each other, and in particular the scenes when they all come together, sparks do fly! Lastly, unfortunately Natasha Hodgson experienced two mic failures at the start of Act 2, but handled it with an exceedingly high level of professionalism – continuing at normal voice volume for a number of scenes before subtlety melting into the wings. It made me appreciate how little each actor is ever offstage during the show, and I believe the mic-failure only made the audience more in awe of her.
Operation Mincemeat is a fantastic new show, and I strongly believe it will have a home in the West End for a very long time. I felt an immense sense of pride for the cast, and their obvious attention to detail throughout previous development-runs, to create this cutting-edge masterpiece. I highly encourage people of all ages to watch this show, and to download the newly released full Original London Cast Recording.
MI5 may have stolen a corpse, but Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical stole my heart.
Reviewer: Charlie O’Neill
To celebrate the West End Premiere, Sony Music are set to released the full Original London Cast Recording on Friday 12th May. The album is available on CD, vinyl, streaming and digital platforms.